Some people seem to think that house churches or missional communities are the purest expression of the church. As a result, they downplay weekend gatherings that require a lot of energy or attention. The logic goes something like: you can’t be the church for just two hours a Sunday.
Are Small Gatherings Purer that Big Gatherings?
I’ve used this very logic; there’s a lot of truth to it. But surely it is possible to cultivate gospel-centered community in larger gatherings. I think it depends on how the Sunday gathering is structured, what forms the primary focus, and how we interact with one another. I, for one, don’t think that missional communities are the purer expression of the church. We see both private and public, small and large gatherings of the church in Scripture, from house churches to city churches, bands of martyrs to billions of people from every tribe and tongue bowed low in white-hot worship. Instead of writing off big gatherings, what would happen if we rewrote the script? What if the community participated in big gatherings beyond acts of service like children’s ministry, setup, security, and hospitality?
Let the Community Speak on Sundays
Every other Sunday someone from one of our missional communities gets up and shares something that God is doing in their life, in their community. We simply ask that it relate to one of our three core values—Gospel, Community, and Mission. Very often they touch on all three.
This Sunday Sam shared how a recent missional experience in the projects provoked confusion and some deep soul-searching. He began asking questions like “Do I really believe the gospel?” Should I sell all my clothes and give the money away? Tearing through the clothing in his closet, his wife arrested him by asking: Sam are you trying to impress God?” Mission as idolatry, as identity, subverts Jesus’ rightful and satisfying place in our lives. Sam went on to share how ashamed he was, but ended up realizing that Jesus was sufficient for his failure to believe, to treasure Christ. Then he charged us with something like: “If you feel ashamed, if you feel like you don’t measure up to God, if you feel like you aren’t good enough, don’t believe it. Jesus is big enough to handle your sin. Come to him.”
Gospel-centered Community on Sundays (and for sermons)
Sam’s exhortation lodged grace in my soul. As it turned out, I had been battling indifference towards Christ all morning. My sermon rehearsal had felt flat. My religious affections were a flickering flame, shifting from blue to white, at times even invisible. God strengthened me on the spot with Sam’s exhortation that Jesus is sufficient for my indifference. I repented for my lack of affection for our infinitely desirable God, received His forgiveness which jolted me into worship. This story from the community reminded me what kind of Savior we serve. I emerged from my sinful indifference into hopeful expectation, prepared to preach from a place of deeper gospel conviction.
Sunday after Sunday my church preaches to me before I preach to them. Sometimes through songs, other times through stories, but they serve as a constant reminder that God has not called me to professionalism but to Jesus-centered missional community. I hear them telling me the very same things I tell them: “Jesus is sufficient for our failures and strong for our successes.” “We are an imperfect people clinging to a perfect Christ.”
Sometimes I slowly mound up pressure on myself for a stunning homiletic performance. When I do, I displace the power of the gospel and replace it with the weakness of words. To be sure, our words can carry gospel power, but they can also carry death and deceit. We all need the “holiness of truth”—to hear the words that are right and true, which produce a holy happiness in the face of false and fleeting promises like: “If I exegete the culture well, if I provide a unique theological insight, then the sermon will impress, will impact, will change people.” God’s faithfulness to his Word, the sanctifying power of simple truth, and the presence of a gracious people who point me through sermons, away from performances, and to our Savior all underscore that the Christ alone is our hope, that God in Christ through the Spirit is faithfully working in us according to his good pleasure.
What better way to finish off a Sunday than by spending time in community?. Tonight we dropped by a friend’s house where folks showed up to have an impromptu breakfast-for-dinner and just hang out. Conversation after conversation reminded me of the faith-strengthening power of an imperfect, gospel-centered community, one that happens in a steady state, including Sundays. I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.